Elfrid Payton’s massive summer made possible by a Chris Paul camp snub

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Elfrid Payton had a really, really good sophomore season, one that saw him average 15.9 points, 5.6 boards, 5.5 assists and 2.4 steals while playing more than 35 minutes a night.

Those are massive numbers, regardless of what level of basketball you play.

The problem, however, was that Payton played for Louisiana, a team that finished last season buried in eighth place in the Sun Belt with a forgettable 13-20 record. Payton was a first team all-Sun Belt selection and the guy that every coach game-planned around if they had UL on their schedule, but his notoriety didn’t make it much further than a scouting report for Arkansas State or South Alabama.

Such is life at the mid-major level, which is precisely why his head coach, Bob Marlin, spent all spring trying to get Payton into Chris Paul’s point guard camp. An invitation-only event stocked with some of the best high school and collegiate point guards from across the country, it would be the perfect place for a 6-foot-3 combo-guard to A) learn from some of the best skills instructors, including CP3 himself, and B) get some exposure, to be more than just a name known in Florida Atlantic’s locker room.

“We fought it pretty hard for about a month,” Marlin told NBCSports.com, but eventually, word came back that Payton would not be getting that invitation. “It was disappointing.”

And it ended up being the best thing that ever happened to him.

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Elfrid Payton is an opportunist.

Give him an inch, and he’s taking a yard. Let him get a foot in the door, and he’s busting through like Adrian Peterson catching a glimpse of the goal line.

As a 16 year old high school senior, Payton was 6-foot-1 and 160 pounds, stuck playing second fiddle on a good John Ehret (LA) HS team that featured the more highly-regarded O.C. Tart. Payton was a Division I prospect, but he was the guy whose high school coach had to make calls on his behalf. That changed midway through the season, as Payton was given the reins to the team when Tart got himself suspended.

With a chance to show what he was capable of, Payton led Ehret to Louisiana’s state tournament semifinals, which just so happened to be played at UL’s Cajundome. At that point, Marlin had been recruiting Payton for about a month, Tulsa and New Mexico State were poking around, and Texas A&M had inquired about Payton attending prep school. A couple of weeks later, after visiting Payton at his high school, Marlin hosted Payton and his family on campus for an unofficial visit. Payton committed that day. “We just thought UL was the right place,” he told NBCSports.com. “It was close to home, my parents could come see my games, it was the right fit, and I could come in immediately and play, which was the biggest thing.”

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After a promising freshman season, Payton exploded as a sophomore, bolstered by a late growth spurt and an extra 20 pounds of muscle. It wasn’t enough to earn an invite to the Chris Paul camp, but Payton caught another break.

Sports Reach is a ministry that travels the world using athletics as a platform to share the Gospel. Based in Louisville, KY, it would only make sense that one of their main efforts involved basketball, and they’ve had some pretty prominent alumni. Jordy Hulls traveled with them in the summer of 2011. Peyton Siva, Victor Oladipo and Aaron White were on the team in 2012. This summer, Sports Reach had a point guard drop out of their two week trip to China, and when Marlin got word, he and Payton decided that it was probably his best chance at making a name for himself.

It wasn’t.

Unless you knew someone on that trip, you didn’t know about that trip.

But it forced Payton to get a passport, and that may have changed the course of his basketball career.

While Payton was on the trip, Marlin had a realization: Payton’s young for his age, as he turned 19 years old this February. That would make him eligible for the USA’s U-19 team, which is typically made up of high school seniors and college freshmen. Payton was due home in a couple of days, and the U-19 trials were due to start in about two weeks, but Marlin figured it was worth a shot to give the U-19 head coach, his old friend Billy Donovan, a call to make a pitch for Payton to get an invite to training camp.

“I know the trials have been set and it’s the last minute and I apologize, but I’ve got a young man that I think can help the team and bring some more experience to the group,” Marlin told Donovan. He referenced the 20 points and seven steals Payton had against Michigan State and the 17.5 points, 8.5 assists and 7.0 boards he had in two games against Richard Pitino’s FIU team. He told Donovan to ask around about this kid.

Donovan, Marlin said, told him that wasn’t necessary. He trusted his old friend’s opinion, and that a spot had opened up because Tyus Jones dropped out of the trials. Marlin would have to save the hard-sell for Sean Ford of USA Basketball, however. It was his decision to make.

When Marlin finally heard from Ford, the Men’s National Team Director, Ford only had two questions:

“Is Elfrid 19 years old?”

Yes. He turned 19 in February.

“Does he have a passport?”

Well, he does now.

From there, the story tells itself.

Payton was sensational during the training camp, beating out the likes of Ryan Arcidiacono, Kris Dunn, Damyeon Dotson, Javan Felix and Rodney Purvis for a spot on the 12 man roster. He then beat out Nigel Williams-Goss, James Robinson, Michael Frazier and Justise Winslow for a spot in Team USA’s starting lineup, where he was featured alongside future lottery picks Marcus Smart and Rasheed Sulaimon.

“I thought if given the opportunity to show it, I can play with those guys,” Payton said. “Once I got the chance I was able to seize the opportunity.”

Payton earning a spot on the team turned him into a major story in the college hoops world in the slow month of June; Ragin’ Cajun point guards don’t often don the red, white and blue. But it was his on the court that really got people talking. Payton is as athletic slasher that is a nightmare to keep out of the paint and a misery to try to handle the ball against. He’s still learning some of the intricacies of being a point guard — how to run a team, how to read the pick-and-roll, when to pick his spots — but the talent and the effort level is there.

While Payton was putting up nine points, six assists and five steals in the U-19 final against Serbia, Marlin was fielding calls from NBA front office types asking how the heck this kid ended up at UL. Given the success of mid-major combo-guards in recent years — Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum — it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the NBA has started inquiring.

All Payton needed was the exposure.

And if he had gotten that invite from the Chris Paul camp in the spring, he wouldn’t have been on that trip to China. If he didn’t take that trip to China, he wouldn’t have had a passport when USA Basketball extended him an invite.

“Opportunities don’t come around a lot,” Payton said. “So when they do, it’s important that you make the most of them.”

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Marlin got the news while Payton was in Prague representing his country.

“We get the call, finally, and they ask him to come to Chris Paul camp,” Marlin said. “I told the guy, we waited and we waited and we didn’t hear anything back. I said, ‘we tried’, and he said, ‘well, he’s in now.'”

It wasn’t quite that simple, though. The Chris Paul camp happened to coincide with UL’s trip to Spain this August. Payton would have a decision to make: go on an exhibition tour with his team, or spend three days in Winston-Salem at the camp he had worked so hard to get into five months ago.

He declined the invitation.

“Chris Paul isn’t going anywhere,” Payton said. “I felt like I needed to spend some time with my teammates and get better with my team. The most important goal is to win a conference championship and to make a run in March, and I just wanted to be with my team at that time.”

“Little things and reasons that went into the decision that I didn’t get in [initially] did kind of put a chip on my shoulder, but everything happens for a reason. It was alright. I was able to experience the U-19. The whole thing about the Chris Paul camp was getting exposure, and the U-19s did that for me.”

Kevin Knox’s father: ‘I’ve never met Christian Dawkins’

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The father of Kevin Knox spoke with SEC Country on Friday morning and told the outlet that he has never met Christian Dawkins or Andy Miller.

Knox is one of the players that was mentioned in the documents disclosed by Yahoo Sports on Friday morning detailing the way that former NBA agent Andy Miller recruited players to his agency. Knox is mentioned in the report as either him or a family member having a meal with Christian Dawkins. The evidence is an expense report that Dawkins filed with Miller in oder to get reimbursed.

“Obviously the investigation is still going on, but the only comment I can say is I’ve never met Christian Dawkins before or Andy Miller, and if they sat next to me at the grocery store, I wouldn’t know who they were,” Kevin Knox Sr. told SEC Country. “Out of respect for the NCAA investigation and the University of Kentucky investigation into this, I’d just say that I’ve never met Christian Dawkins or Andy Miller before and leave it at that.”

He also added that he expected his son to play against Missouri on Saturday night.

Kentucky has not yet commented on the report. Mark Emmert, however, has.

Report: Miles Bridges, Wendell Carter, Kevin Knox among players receiving benefits in FBI documents

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Yahoo Sports released a devastating report on Friday morning detailing some of the exact expenditures and impermissible benefits provided listed on records that were obtained by the FBI from the offices of former agent Andy Miller.

Among them?

Michigan State’s Miles Bridges, Duke’s Wendell Carter, Alabama’s Collin Sexton and Kentucky’s Kevin Knox, just to name a few. Past college stars like Dennis Smith Jr., Bam Adebayo and Markelle Fultz are also listed in the spreadsheets and documents obtained by Yahoo.

The report — and I encourage you to read it — details the elaborate payment, loan and recruitment strategy by Andy Miller’s agency, which includes outright payments to players, cash advances to parents, dinners that were paid for and plane tickets and travel that was provided to players and families.

Here’s the catch: What was provided to the biggest names currently in college is not all that great. Bridges’ mom allegedly received $400, according to an expense report filed by Dawkins, while Bridges’ parents had a meal with Dawkins listed at $70.05. Carter, Knox and Sexton are all tied to this by meals that families members had with Dawkins that the former Miller associate paid for.

Whether or not the players will be deemed ineligible is yet to be determine. The dollar value of the benefits listed in these documents is small enough that paying the money back might be enough to get their eligibility restored now even if it does mean that games they’ve played in previously will end up vacated.

There is also the argument that can be made that Dawkins is lying in these expense reports. In a business with as much cash flying around as this, is it too much of a stretch to assume that Dawkins had dinner with some friends or a girlfriend and passed the receipt off as a work expense?

It’s too early to tell what exactly will result from all of this.

But remember how we tried to tell you in September that this thing goes deep?

Well, here you go.

Bracketology: How high can North Carolina climb?

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On Monday, North Carolina passed Michigan State and Purdue on the Seed List (UNC is No. 7 overall).  Wednesday, the Tar Heels backed up their route of Louisville by winning another road game at Syracuse.  That’s six straight ACC victories – all but two of which are against teams in today’s bracket.  Carolina now has 10 Quadrant 1 wins, which ties the Tar Heels with Kansas for the most in that category (by a two-win margin).  Which brings us to this question: How high can Carolina climb?

The answer, of course, depends on these next two weeks.  But given their strong schedule and depth of quality wins, a No. 1 seed isn’t out of the question if the Tar Heels beat Duke (again) to close the regular season and/or win the ACC tournament.

Overall, several ACC teams benefitted today by the confusing state of the SEC.  The middle of the bracket is littered with SEC teams who ebb and flow like the tides of the ocean.  These next two weeks will be important for them, too.

With another full weekend ahead, here’s where we stand …

UPDATED: February 23, 2018

FIRST FOUR PAIRINGS – Dayton (First Round)

  • Baylor vs. Washington | Midwest Region
  • Texas vs. LSU West Region
  • SOUTHERN vs. SAVANNAH ST | South Region
  • FL GULF COAST vs. NICHOLLS | East Region

BRACKET PROJECTION

SOUTH Atlanta    EAST – Boston                               
Charlotte Pittsburgh
1) VIRGINIA 1) VILLANOVA
16) SOUTHERN / SAVANNAH ST 16) FL GULF CST / NICHOLLS
8) Alabama 8) Miami-FL
9) Creighton 9) Florida
San Diego Boise
5) Ohio State 5) Kentucky
12) LOUISIANA 12) St. Bonaventure
4) West Virginia 4) GONZAGA
13) E. TENNESSEE ST 13) VERMONT
Dallas Wichita
6) Florida State 6) Virginia Tech
11) Saint Mary’s 11) MIDDLE TENNESSEE
3) Texas Tech 3) CINCINNATI
14) CHARLESTON 14) BUCKNELL
Detroit Nashville
7) Arizona State 7) Butler
10) Providence 10) Kansas State
2) MICHIGAN STATE 2) North Carolina
15) WRIGHT STATE 15) WAGNER
WEST – Los Angeles MIDWEST – Omaha
Wichita Detroit
1) KANSAS 1) Xavier
16) PENNSYLVANIA 16) UNC-ASHEVILLE
8) Seton Hall 8) Arkansas
9) Texas AM 9) TCU
Boise Dallas
5) Clemson 5) Michigan
12) NEW MEXICO ST 12) LOYOLA (CHI)
4) Wichita State 4) Tennessee
13) SOUTH DAKOTA ST 13) MURRAY STATE
San Diego Pittsburgh
6) Houston 6) RHODE ISLAND
11) LSU / Texas 11) Baylor / Washington
3) ARIZONA 3) Purdue
14) RIDER 14) BUFFALO
Nashville Charlotte
7) NC State 7) Missouri
10) NEVADA 10) Oklahoma
2) AUBURN 2) Duke
15) UC-IRVINE 15) MONTANA

NOTES on the BRACKET: Virginia is the No. 1 overall seed – followed by Villanova, Xavier, and Kansas

Last Four Byes (at large): Kansas State, Providence, Saint Mary’s, St. Bonaventure

Last Four IN (at large): Baylor, Texas, LSU, Washington

First Four OUT (at large): Marquette, Syracuse, USC, Utah

Next four teams OUT (at large): UCLA, Mississippi State, Louisville, Georgia

Breakdown by Conference …

SEC (9): AUBURN, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Texas AM, LSU

ACC (8): VIRGINIA, Duke, North Carolina, Clemson, Florida State, Miami-FL, Virginia Tech, NC State

BIG 12 (8): TEXAS TECH, Kansas, West Virginia, Oklahoma, TCU, Kansas State, Baylor, Texas

Big East (6): VILLANOVA, Xavier, Butler, Seton Hall, Creighton, Providence

Big 10 (4): MICHIGAN STATE, Purdue, Ohio State, Michigan

Pac 12 (3): ARIZONA, Arizona State, Washington

American (3): CINCINNATI, Wichita State, Houston

Atlantic 10 (2): RHODE ISLAND, St. Bonaventure

West Coast (2): GONZAGA, Saint Mary’s

Mountain West (1): NEVADA

ONE BID LEAGUES: Loyola-Chicago (MVC), Rider (MAAC), Middle Tennessee (C-USA), Louisiana (SBELT), Pennsylvania (IVY), Montana (BSKY), Wright State (HORIZON), Nicholls (SLND), East Tennessee State (STHN), UC-Santa Barbara (BWEST), Buffalo (MAC), Florida Gulf Coast (ASUN), Murray State (OVC), Charleston (CAA), UNC-Asheville (BSO), Savannah State (MEAC), South Dakota State (SUM), New Mexico State (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Bucknell (PAT), Wagner (NEC), Southern (SWAC)

Bracketing principles: read them for yourself at http://www.ncaa.com.

Medical clearance brings difficult decision for Michael Porter, Jr.

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Michael Porter, Jr. came to an antiquated situation in a very modern way.

The 6-foot-11 phenom signed up to play for his father at his hometown university.

And Missouri really is more than just the hometown university for Porter — it’s home. His aunt has coached two of his sisters on the Tigers’ women’s team. His younger brother, one of his seven siblings, is also on the roster. After hitting rock-bottom in the Kim Anderson era, Missouri was getting its prodigal son and savior all in the same package.

Nevermind it came after his family moved to Seattle as his father was hired as an assistant by Lorenzo Romar in Washington, no doubt in part because of the long-standing relationship between the two men but also because Porter, Jr. is possibly a generational talent. And forget that his father’s next job came from Cuonzo Martin at Missouri.

In the end, Porter, Jr. began the season playing for his father and with his brother, a five-star center who reclassified in order to join the Tigers, undoubtedly envisioning a magical season alongside his family in his hometown in the pursuit of a national championship.

It’s not Hoosiers, but it ain’t far off.

The season hasn’t exactly worked out that way, and after Porter, Jr. found himself in a nostalgic role by following a contemporary path, in order to live out that he’ll have to turn his back on current-day — somewhat cynical — common sense logic to get one last chance at it.

After sitting out the whole season due to a back injury and with a week left in the regular season, Porter, Jr. has been cleared to return to basketball activities, seemingly setting up the decision on whether to give college basketball one last chance or simply sit out to preserve his best chance to make the most money in the NBA.

Essentially, it boils down to this: Is the added risk to the potential of hundreds of millions of dollars Porter, Jr. could make in the NBA worth the reward of an NCAA tournament run playing alongside his brother with his father on the bench at the university that in some ways has defined his family?

How much is that one chance of collegiate glory worth?

The simple answer for most in 2018 is not enough to justify playing.

Porter, Jr. probably can’t move the needle on his draft stock by playing. Could he possibly be good enough in just a couple weeks after months on the shelf to move ahead of Deandre Ayton? Luka Doncic? Mo Bamba or Marvin Bagley III? Maybe, but is going first or second that much of a difference than going fifth or sixth when the real money comes on his second and third contracts? Or his shoe deal?

Were he to injure himself — especially if it was an aggravation of the back injury or a foot issue — teams might have memories of Greg Oden flash before their eyes. Is there a team willing to risk a Joel Embiid-like injury profile in the first seven slots of a draft this strong?

On the other hand, Porter, Jr. is going to be drafted no matter what potentially happens after his potential return. I can’t imagine even in the most catastrophic of scenarios where he slips outside the top-half of the first round. He’ll make millions of dollars, and that’s the worst-case scenario. Playing, if he’s fully healthy, only adds some risk.

Is that added percent — or two or five or 15 — acceptable when weighed against the unique opportunity that generations of basketball players have dreamed of and never even been given chance to fulfill?

Charging headlong into a chance to win a title — and Missouri very well could be a title contender in a year like this year with a healthy Porter, Jr. — for your school, community and family has to be a tantalizingly tempting choice. Even if it doesn’t come with a paycheck.

It’s chasing a storybook ending over limiting future financial risk.

How to adjudicate those two choices is up to Porter, Jr.

It’s a choice he gets to make. Does he try to have it all or play it safe? Is the lure of shared family success stronger than that of financial security and better long-term viability?

Playing for free has a cost. Is Porter, Jr. willing to pay it?

NCAA president Mark Emmert on Yahoo report: ‘Systematic failures … must be fixed’

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NCAA president Mark Emmert released a statement on Friday morning in response to the allegations that were made in a bombshell report from Yahoo Sports.

Yahoo obtained documents detailing the recruitment methods that former NBA agent Andy Miller and an employee, Christian Dawkins, used to chase potential clients. Payments as high as $73,000 are detailed and current athletes like Duke’s Wendell Carter, Michigan State’s Miles Bridges, Kentucky’s Kevin Knox and Alabama’s Collin Sexton are all listed in those documents.

“These allegations, if true, point to systematic failures that must be fixed and fixed now if we want college sports in America,” Emmert’s statement read. “Simply put, people who engage in this kind of behavior have no place in college sports. They are an affront to all those who play by the rules.”

“Following the Southern District of New York’s indictments last year, the NCAA Board of Governors and I formed the independent Commission on College Basketball, chaired by Condoleezza Rice, to provide recommendations on how to clean up the sport. With these latest allegations, it’s clear this work is more important now than ever. The Board and I are completely committed to making transformational changes to the game and ensuring all involved in college basketball do so with integrity.”

“We also will continue to cooperate with the efforts of federal prosecutors to identify and punish the unscrupulous parties seeking to exploit the system through criminal acts.”